Meyers Leonard limited as he tries to play through hip and back pain

Meyers Leonard limited as he tries to play through hip and back pain

Meyers Leonard’s right hip has been in so much pain recently he said he hasn’t been able to sleep at night. The hip pain, compounded with two herniated discs in his back, has left the Trail Blazers big man playing on virtually one leg for the past week and a half, he says.

“It’s a very bizarre feeling to be playing the highest level of basketball while feeling like I have one leg,’’ Leonard said Wednesday. “It’s frustrating to say the least.’’

Leonard had an MRI on the hip on Monday, which revealed some damage, but he wished to keep the issue private.

Leonard said he first felt the hip pain in Phoenix last week, and thought it was just the result of playing in a back-to-back. However, as the trip progressed, he was in nightly pain, so much so that he couldn’t sleep.

He said the combination of herniated L4 and L5 discs and the hip issue have rendered his right leg powerless. He knew it was a problem in New Orleans when he received an inside pass from Al-Farouq Aminu and was blocked as he went to dunk, unable to get his normal elevation.

Since that New Orleans game, Leonard has played seven minutes, three minutes, six minutes and seven minutes. In the 15 games prior, he was averaging 19 minutes a game while playing perhaps his best basketball of the season, with averages of 6.6 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 36.6 percent from three-point range.

“I can’t really explode to get rebounds, really,’’ Leonard said. “I’m just trying to hide it, trying my best not to let it show.’’

Against Atlanta, Leonard remembers coach Terry Stotts approaching him and asking him if he could give him three good minutes in the fourth quarter. He did – playing three minutes and hitting 1-of-2 shots while adding a rebound.

“I’m just trying to give some semi-quality minutes,’’ Leonard said. “If you watch the last couple of games it’s only been me trying to get Dame and CJ open on ball screens, get Allen open on pin downs, and get in the way on box outs … and shoot when I’m open. I’m just trying my best not to let it show.’’

Leonard, however, can be seen dragging his right leg in the limited time he has seen recently, in what he says is an effort to become tougher mentally. He said in Detroit last month he was bumped on the right hip during a pregame warmup by assistant Jim Moran and it felt like he had “been shot by a shotgun.”

He took anti-inflammatories and played 18 minutes in that game.

“I’ve just tried to hide it. I’ve got to be tougher about the situation, become tougher mentally.’’ Leonard said. “But it’s real odd to try and play on one leg.’’

Leonard said he has remained on anti-inflammatories and is under a strict rehabilitation and weight lifting regiment to build strength back in his right leg.

“Basically, they say hopefully it will die down in seven to 10 days,’’ Leonard said. “And it has gotten better. On our last trip, in Atlanta, I couldn’t sleep it was so painful. But it has died down with the medication.’’

Any marked improvement doesn’t appear imminent. On Wednesday, Leonard said he attempted a round of three-pointers during practice.

“I couldn’t get any lift off the floor,’’ he said. “It’s just odd, awkward feeling.’’

Leonard's injury comes at a time when the Blazers' already have center Ed Davis out for the season after undergoing left shoulder surgery on March 7. With Leonard's limited availability, Noah Vonleh on Tuesday played extended minutes at backup center behind starter Jusuf Nurkic. 

Next up: New York at Blazers, 7 p.m. Thursday (KGW)

Trail Blazers have a Big 3 -- but still need one more piece up front

Trail Blazers have a Big 3 -- but still need one more piece up front

OKLAHOMA CITY – Now that the Trail Blazers have their Big Three, on some nights against the better teams, they still seem to be one player short.

Damian Lillard scored 34 points on 12-24 shooting and CJ McCollum had 31 on 11-23 shooting. But the Trail Blazers, in spite of getting 22 points and 15 rebounds from Jusuf Nurkic, came up way short at the forward positions and dropped a 123-114 game to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Portland’s starting forwards combined for four points on 1-11 shooting. And by the way, the OKC starting forwards went for 47 points on 14-29 shooting, including 5-8 from three-point range.

That, of course, included Paul George’s big game – 36 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five steals.

When asked afterward why he went with the starting forwards – Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu – down the stretch, Portland Coach Terry Stotts said simply, “Because Paul George is a really good offensive player and I liked that defensive matchup.”

How did that work out? Weren’t those the same guys George scored a lot of his points off of?

“Paul George is a great player and the last time we played them he had two points in the fourth quarter and that’s the matchup we went with," Stotts said.

OK, not trying to be argumentative here, but George was pretty much getting what he wanted all night long, regardless of who was guarding him. And that’s no slight toward the Portland defenders – in today’s NBA game the great offensive players are usually stopped only by themselves.

At some point, I think coaches need to surrender to that and make the call to go with their best offensive players to try to keep pace.

I don’t know how many more points George would have gotten off of Jake Layman or  anyone else the Blazers could have thrown at him. Portland did try just about everyone and nobody could stop him. But I also know that some of the other players would have countered those George baskets with some of their own.

So why not go with a player who could get you some of those points back at your offensive end?

Layman is starting to come into his own as an offensive player and we have no idea what his ceiling is, right? We do know what Harkless and Aminu can do because we’ve seen it for the last few seasons – and they aren’t difference makers. As a team that needs to make a stride upward to get where it wants to go, why not try something new?

And really, there are others who might help.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins all had decent offensive games off the bench. Leonard, in particular, can shoot. Turner can score at the post and make plays.

Why not surrender one of those starting forward positions to somebody else and see what happens? It’s pretty obvious by now there is no major trade possibility of filling that hole. Why not give a developing player a golden opportunity to grow into a valuable contributor?

One scout during this road trip told me that with Nurkic playing the way he is, he thought Portland was only one wing player away from being a factor in the West.

And don’t we know already that neither of the starting forwards is that player?

Harkless went 0-4 from the floor and at least three of the misses were layups. Aminu was 1-7 (0-5 from three) and his basket was meaningless, the last one of the game.

It is not clear how the Trail Blazers are going to make any progress in the Western Conference until they come up with a forward who can score, or at least fool the defense into thinking he can, so that the floor can be spread.

Layman, Collins or Leonard are all worth a try but Layman’s recent auditions make him the first in line.

The Blazers were battling uphill all night long and got the solid game from Jusuf Nurkic – but a whopping 19 turnovers crept in to kill any comeback attempts.

“It’s always frustrating anytime you lose,” Lillard said “But I thought we competed hard. A lot of stuff we did hurt ourselves. We know they steal the ball.

“Down the stretch we needed to do a much better job of valuing those possessions and getting up a shot.”

Rapid Reaction: Quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Thunder

Rapid Reaction: Quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Thunder

Dame and CJ's effort wasn't enough to eclipse Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Box Score: Thunder 123, Blazers 114

Dwight Jaynes (Trail Blazers Insider in Oklahoma City): 

Chris Burkhardt (producer in Oklahoma City): Defense was an issue all night for the Blazers. Seven different players scored for the Thunder. That's not the problem. The problem is that six of those seven scored in double figures. To top if off, Paul George just couldn't be stopped. We can say it's ok because it was the second game of a back-to-back, but it was also second game of a back-to-back for OKC. Both teams had their ups and downs, and OKC just had the better night. On to the next.

Jamie Hudson (Trail Blazers reporter): The Blazers continued to struggle from three-point range in the first half vs. the Thunder, just as they did on Monday night against the Jazz. However, CJ McCollum started heating up from long distance in the third to help keep the Blazers close. The problem for Portland was that the Thunder always had an answer when McCollum and the Blazers would go on a run in the third. With the Blazers trailing heading into the fourth quarter, it looked as though Damian Lillard was determined to break that streak of losing every game after trailing after three quarters. Lillard's defense was impressive throughout the game and he turned it up even more in the 4th. He also took it upon himself to get to the basket in the final quarter. This was a very physical game, but in the end, OKC proved to be too much for Portland and the Blazers can't end that third quarter losing streak... Not yet.

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Check back later for videos and analysis from the locker room.

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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USA Today Images

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

Tonight is the second of four meetings between Portland and Oklahoma City this season. The Thunder took the first matchup, 111-109, back on January 4th at Moda Center. In that loss, Damian Lillard missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer with 1.5 seconds to go in the game.

As both teams get set to play in the second night of a back-to-back, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media prior to tonight’s game.

Coach Donovan discussed what his team needs to do defend the Trail Blazers trio of Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.

“The guys on the ball can’t worry about the pocket passes (from Nurkic). Nurkic is a great passer. You look at their assist numbers and how they’ve really risen since the last time we played against them, I think a lot of that has to do with Nurkic’s passing ability. So, you’ve got to be up in coverage,” Donovan said.

Donovan really emphasized both individual and team defense in what will be a key to tonight’s game and to their future success.  

Hear from Coach Donovan:

Coach Stotts talked about how his team is able to respond in the second night of a back-to-back, especially since this game is so important with the Blazers and Thunder neck-and-neck in the Western Conference standings. 

Maurice Harkless is not listed on the Blazers injury report today despite it being a back-to-back. Coach Stotts views that as progress with Harkless dealing with left knee soreness throughout the season.

“He only played 18 minutes last night and the way we approach it is… hopefully he’s able to play every game, and if he’s not, he’s not,” Stotts said.

It wasn’t as if Harkless was on an 18-minute restriction last night, it was more that Coach Stotts wanted to stick with Jake Layman in the rotation with Layman playing so well against the Jazz in the Blazers win on Monday night.  

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers beat the Jazz

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers beat the Jazz

After getting blown out by the Utah Jazz twice in December, the Portland Trail Blazers finally got a win against their Northwest Division rivals on Monday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

The Blazers had a forgetful first half, shooting just 1-of-5 from three-point range, but that all changed after halftime. Portland bigs Meyers Leonard and Jake Layman slayed the Jazz, making four crucial three-point field goals, while Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard carried the team to another big win.

Here’s a look at everything you might have missed as the Blazers beat the Jazz 109-104.

Bosnian Beast could not be stopped by the Jazz. Nurkic went beast mode in the third quarter, dropping 17 points, five rebounds, four blocks, and two assists…in the third quarter alone.

The Jazz was not pleased with Nurkic, who finished with 22 points on the night. Rudy Gobert chirped back at the Bosnian big and Jae Crowder proceeded to get in his face, but Nurkic was not having it.

Dwight Jaynes recapped Nurk’s night and his tiff with Crowder: Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

Nurkic's “brotherly” relationship with Damian Lillard has continued to emerge for the Blazers this season. The two players have been effective individually, contributing in a big way to Portland’s success. The Blazers currently sit in fourth spot in the Western Conference.

Jamie Hudson shared some thoughts on Lillard and Nurkic’s connection: Damian Lillard & Jusuf Nurkic: A Brother's Lesson - There's always a new quarter

Dwight Jaynes, Jamie Hudson and Chris Burkhardt shared some quick thoughts from the scene immediately after the game: Rapid Reaction: Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Jazz

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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USA Today Images

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

GAME HEADLINES

Blazers get revenge against Jazz:

The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Utah Jazz 109-104 on Monday night. It was Damian Lillard who led the way for Portland, scoring 26 points. Lillard hit two clutch shots down the stretch. The big third quarter from Jusuf Nurkic was also a major factor in the win. Nurkic scored 17 points and had four blocks in the third quarter alone. Nurkic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. After the win, Nurkic talked about how he has learned from Lillard that even if you have a bad first half, you can put that behind you and have a good second half. Monday’s win over the Jazz proves to the Blazers and to Blazers fans that Portland can win on the road against teams above .500. With the victory, the Blazers improve to 29-19 on the season and 9-12 on the road.  

Thunder also playing second night of back-to-back:

While the Blazers and Jazz game went down to the wire on Monday, it was the opposite for the Thunder on MLK Day.  OKC never trailed after jumping out to a 34-16 lead over the Knicks on their way to 127-109 victory. Paul George scored 31 points, while Russell Westbrook finished with a near triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Oklahoma City’s biggest lead was 24. Both George and Westbrook did not play the entire fourth quarter, which of course, will be helpful in facing the Blazers on a second night of a back-to-back.


INJURY UPDATES 

Anfernee Simons (G League) and Gary Trent Jr. (G League) are out for Tuesday's game vs. the Thunder.

For OKC, Andre Roberson (left patellar tendon) is out.

QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

Jamie Hudson: Nurkic continues to learn from Lillard as both flirt with triple-doubles in win over Jazz

VIDEO: Nurkic brings the heat on a snowy evening against the Jazz

VIDEO: Scratch, claw, and grind

VIDEO: Nurkic doesn't make many friends in SLC


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 5:00 p.m. 

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (4:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Point Spread: Oklahoma City -5.5

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

SALT LAKE CITY – The Trail Blazers played one of their best games of the season Monday night in Vivint Smart Home Arena. And maybe that was because they played one of their best second halves of the season.

From top to bottom – the 109-104 decision over the Utah Jazz was a team win.

But check out some of these second-half contributions:

  • Jusuf Nurkic was 2-8 from the field in the first half with two rebounds. He finished the game 8-17 with nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocked shots.
  • Jake Layman played only 7:20 in the first half and scored two points. He finished with 12 points and two very big three-point field goals and played 18 minutes in the second half, including every second of the final quarter.
  • Meyers Leonard had only two first-half points but went 2-2 from three-point distance in the second half and finished with eight points.
  • The Jazz shot 45.5 percent in the first half, but just 34 percent after halftime.
  • Portland shot 44.4 percent in the first half, making just 1-of-5 from three-point range. However in the second half, the Trail Blazers shot 55.6 percent overall and made 7-of-13 from distance.

A lot of the second-half success had to be attributed to simply growing accustomed to playing against Utah’s shot-blocking demon Rudy Gobert, who is tough to handle at both ends.

On offense, the Jazz do a great job of putting Gobert’s defender in a cat-and-mouse game of either picking up a guard at the rim – allowing for a lob to Gobert or an offensive put-back – or allowing the guard to get a layup while staying with Gobert.

But Nurkic turned it around at halftime, particularly in a hot third quarter.

“I’m capable of doing that,” Nurkic said of his second-half performance. “I have really grown up since I came to Portland. I’ve learned no matter how bad things are in the first quarter or second quarter, there’s always a new quarter.

“I can make smarter decisions. I think Dame helped me out a lot.”

Nurkic got into a little tiff with Jae Crowder in the third quarter and it seemed to perk him up.

“I don’t know,” he said. “People walk into me and I’m not going to back up. He doesn’t want to fight. He just wants a conversation, I guess.”

Lately a lot of people seem to want a conversation with Nurkic, including Sacramento’s Iman Shumpert.

“I’m just a busy man, I don’t have time for it,” Nurkic said with a smile.

Coach Terry Stotts liked what he got from his big center.

“Well, the second half Nurkic was huge at both ends,” Stotts said. “He had a presence in the paint. He’s blocking shots, and obviously pick-and-rolls, finishing around the basket.”

Leonard had no hesitation to his shooting Monday and that’s been slowly vanishing from his game.

“Yeah, that’s important,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been working on a lot with the coaches in practice. Honestly, that’s another progression for me.”

There were plenty of heroes in this one. Damian Lillard had 26 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Evan Turner played the entire fourth quarter and chalked up 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The Blazers have no time to celebrate this one. They hopped on their charter after the game and headed for Oklahoma City, where they meet the Thunder Tuesday night.

 

Damian Lillard & Jusuf Nurkic: A Brother's Lesson - There's always a new quarter

Damian Lillard & Jusuf Nurkic: A Brother's Lesson - There's always a new quarter

The pick-and-roll between Trail Blazers' All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and big man Jusuf Nurkic has become a thing of beauty this season. Both players have said multiple times and in multiple different ways that the two of them have a strong connection, while Nurkic has called Lillard his brother.

And when you are running the pick-and-roll with your brother, that makes reading the defense a little easier and more effective.

For the Trail Blazers to snag a 109-104 victory over the Jazz on Monday night, it was all about “playing for each other,” as Lillard mentioned.

Lillard finished with a near triple-double, scoring 26 points, to go along with eight rebounds, and eight assists on the night.

THE STREAK

The Blazers put up 39 points in the third quarter and were leading 83-79 heading into the fourth. And, you know what that means...

YEP.

The Trail Blazers streak of leading after three quarters and holding on for a victory now goes to 29-0.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was pleased to get a tough road victory as Portland improves its road record to 9-12.

 

“That was a really good road win. I really liked the way we competed, came out at halftime, the third quarter was really important. One of the things we said going into this game was our offense had to be better and I thought our third quarter offense was really good. Nurk was effective. Dame was effective. We got good momentum with movement and passing,” Stotts told reporters after the game.

There’s no doubt that Nurk and Dame being effective individually and together has been a big reason why Portland sits in the fourth spot in the Western Conference Standings at 29-19 on the season.

“I liked our passing, I liked our energy, I liked our cutting… Obviously the chemistry between Damian and Nurk was really effective” Stotts said of what he enjoyed about the Blazers’ third quarter performance.

“We really tried to make a statement… They didn’t see our offense fully flow (in the previous two games this season). I thought we played pretty good, especially the second half,” Nurkic told Brooke Olzendam in the Blazers’ postgame interview. 

Nurkic had 17 points, five rebounds, four blocks and two assists and that was just in the third quarter.

LESSONS LEARNED

There’s something that Nurkic honed in on during his postgame interviews and that something is what he has learned from the Trail Blazers leader of this team and Nurkic’s ‘brother’.  

“If you have a bad first quarter or second you need to keep going, it’s a new thing… I thought the third quarter really got me going… I just tried to fight for my team,” Nurkic added.

Nurkic reiterated in the locker room one of the biggest aspects of the game he has learned during his time in Portland is all thanks to Lillard.  

“No matter how bad we have a first quarter or second quarter or any quarter, there’s always a new quarter, there’s always a new time and being smarter with decisions – Dame helped me out with that a lot,” Nurkic told reporters in the locker room.

Nurkic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, sevens assists, and six blocks in the win.


OWNING THE PAINT
When the pick-and-roll is clicking it means the Blazers’ assists and points in the paint are on the rise as well.

As a team Portland dished out 30 assists. It’s the fourth game of the season with 30+ assists for the Blazers. 

And as you might imagine, the Blazers had their way with the Jazz down low, especially when Nurkic went to work in the third quarter. For the game, Portland outscored Utah in the paint, 60-50.

Lillard and Nurkic will now look to take their effective play to Oklahoma City to face another impressive duo in Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams on Tuesday night. You can stream the game live on the new MyTeams App at 5:00pm.

 

Rapid Reaction: Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Jazz

Rapid Reaction: Quick Takeaways from the Blazers win over the Jazz

Propelled by Jusuf Nurkic's 22 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 blocks, the Blazers get their first victory of the season and preserve their perfect record when leading after three quarters (28-0).

Blazers 109, Jazz 104

Dwight Jaynes, Trail Blazers Insider in Salt Lake City:

Chris Burkhardt, producer in Salt Lake City:

The Blazers had a poor first half, but bounced back big in the third. Nurkic nearly had a triple-double, and the duo of Leonard and Layman came up big late. Lillard played hero ball in the final seconds, and in the end the Blazers did everything they needed to do to claw back and pick up the impressive victory. On to OKC.

Jamie Hudson, Trail Blazers reporter: 

It wasn't until Jusuf Nurkic started taking over in the third quarter that it looked like the Blazers were going to really have a chance to win. Nurkic was getting blocks, buckets and getting under the skin of both Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert, both of which picked up technical fouls after getting tangled up with Nurk. Portland led 83-79 at the end of the third. With the streak of 'leading heading into the fourth quarter' on the line, this was easily the big test of the current streak. The Jazz don't quit, but Jake Layman and Meyers Leonard were ready to make a big impact in the fourth on both ends. Along with those two, the Blazers' team defense and their ability to take care of the ball, Portland was able to hold off Utah in the final quarter. And thus, the STREAK IS ALIVE!

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Check back later for interviews and videos from the Blazers locker room. 

 

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Utah Jazz

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Utah Jazz

Tonight’s game will be the third of four meetings between the Trail Blazers and Jazz this season. Utah holds a 2-0 series record with one win at home and one win in Portland.

Both Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Jazz head coach Quin Snyder spoke with the media prior to tonight’s game to give injury updates and talk about what it means to play on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Jazz Injury Update: Tony Bradley (right knee), Dante Exum (left ankle), Raul Neto (left groin) and Thabo Sefolosha (right hamstring) are out vs. the Blazers tonight. But, Ricky Rubio (right hamstring), who was listed as questionable, will play tonight.

Coach Snyder says Rubio will be on a minutes restriction.

Rubio returned to practice on Sunday after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury.

Coach Snyder also discussed how important it is to have Rubio back on the court especially, going up against the Trail Blazers backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

“We’ve got to be disciplined, not fouling them, not giving them easy shots, that’s what Ricky has done a good job of,” Snyder said.

Coach Snyder also talked about how special it is to play on MLK Day.

“He’s someone who has obviously impacted our country… Demonstrating both courage and dignity throughout… It’s an honor to play on this day,” Snyder said.

Hear from Coach Snyder right here:

Blazers Injury Update: With the Trail Blazers on the first night of a back-to-back, Coach Stotts said there’s no plan for Maurice Harkless (dealing with left knee soreness) for Tuesday’s game vs. the Thunder. Harkless will play vs. Utah tonight and he was not on the injury report for tonight’s game.

“We’ll see how he feels everyday. There’s no pan right now to sit him. If he can go, he goes. If he can’t, he can’t,” Stotts said of Harkless.

Coach Stotts was quick to talk about why the Jazz have been so successful against the Blazers. Stotts noted they’ve shot the ball really well against his team this season and have been such a good defensive team for a while now.

“They’ve out played us at both ends, in both games,” Stotts added.

Hear from Coach Stotts right here: